The Juicy Dilemma: Why Aren’t Loose Fruits and Veggies Taking Over Supermarkets Yet?

As the COP28 summit looms in Dubai next week, it’s not an ideal time to discover a serious threat to the war on plastic. But that’s exactly what happened last week, when The Grocer revealed supermarket pledges to remove packaging on loose fruit & veg – a key part of Wrap’s UK Plastics Pact – were running out of steam.

In 2002, retailers agreed on a course to rid up to 80% of packaging by 2025. Now even a massively watered down target of 30% of products sold loose looks almost certain to be missed by that date. In the face of this inaction, there is now calls for the government to implement a new ban on packaging.

So what has gone wrong, and what can be done to salvage the fresh aisle shake-up upon which the hopes of the UK Plastics Pact rest?

Ever walked into a supermarket and thought, "Why can't I just grab my bananas and avocados without wrestling with more plastic than a WWE match?" You're not alone in this produce aisle pondering! Despite the growing clamour for less plastic and more freedom for our fruits and veggies, there's a thing or two in the way.

First off, some supermarkets are still stuck in the plastic jungle because of, you guessed it, cold hard cash. Packaging, as annoying as it is, helps extend the shelf life of perishable goods. In the supermarket business, less waste means more profit. But hey, who wants a cucumber that lasts longer than a Marvel movie? Sometimes, we just want our veggies to be as fresh as our morning coffee. One argument for plastic packaging had been its potential to reduce food waste by keeping items fresher for longer. But Wrap’s research found quite the opposite: removing plastic packaging could slash food waste by over 100,000 tonnes a year, by encouraging shoppers to buy only what they need. Great, so why haven't we done anything about it? Long story short, the plastic packaging goals also potentially clash with the work retailers are doing to sell so-called “wonky” items to eliminate food waste.

Then there's the logistics headache. Supermarkets have a well-oiled machine when it comes to handling pre-packed produce. Think about it – stacks of neatly arranged apples, a pyramid of oranges – it's like produce Tetris. Going loose means supermarkets have to rethink their entire strategy. It's like asking a cat to walk on a leash; they might resist at first.

There is also a lot of technical issue in the way: A major one being the lack of digital weighing capacity, which affects many shops which requires “massive capital investment”.

But don't lose hope in your quest for naked tomatoes! Change is happening, slowly but surely. Some supermarkets are dipping their toes in the 'loose' pool, setting up small islands of free-range fruits and veggies. It's like they're testing the waters to see if we're ready to ditch the cling wrap.

In the end, it's a balancing act between convenience and sustainability. We might not be walking into a plastic-free produce paradise just yet, but with a sprinkle of consumer demand and a dash of eco-friendly innovation, the future could be greener than a kiwi smoothie. Until then, keep your eyes on the prize – a world where your apples can go commando, free from the clutches of unnecessary plastic.


Georgina Williams - Marketing Assistant

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